Life cycle assessment, in short LCA, is a term we use often at 5REDO, and an important part of what we do in our consulting process. While the term seems self explanatory, a life cycle assessment is multifaceted, and its components can shift to address specific cases and situations. It’s a crucial step on the path to the circular economy, as it allows us to see and understand how to better use everyday products and materials.

What does ‘life cycle’ mean?
Just like people, plants, and animals, the products we use every day have a life span, even when we get rid of or no longer want them. A plastic fork, for example, may be used for five minutes, but remain in a landfill for up to 500 years. That’s a long time for a small, throwaway product.

The life cycle of a product means how long it will either take to break down in a landfill, composting center, or how many times it can be recycled or reused in different ways, sometimes after being broken down (different pieces of a product may have varying life cycles).

You may be familiar with the term “cradle to grave”, a popular phrase corporations use to describe the life of a product. A life cycle assessment in relation to the circular economy shifts this idea to “cradle to cradle”, meaning that the goal is to find a way to reuse, remanufacture, or reduce waste and give products new life.

What is a life cycle assessment?
A life cycle assessment is a method used to determine how much value is in a product, by finding out how long it’s typically used for (either by individuals or businesses, or both), if it can be recycled or reused, and how. At 5REDO, in line with circular economy principles, the goal is to both extend the life cycle of products and materials, and ensure everything used in a supply chain has the longest life cycle possible.

An LCA may look different depending on who is conducting it, and for what product or business. In general, there are four broad steps to an LCA, including:

  • Goal and scope definition
  • Inventory analysis
  • Impact assessment
  • Interpretation

Again, these stages may look different depending on the business. One of the most crucial pieces is the impact assessment, which is a breakdown of the current life cycle of an item, and the larger impact that has on the environment. Once the LCA is complete, we can also see how that impact will change when substituted with a more sustainable solution.

When should an LCA be performed?
Usually, an LCA is part of the larger process of analyzing and shifting a product or business to being more sustainable and environmentally responsible. It’s an important measurement tool, and the insights garnered from an LCA can help in the decision making process for businesses and consultants alike. At 5REDO, we are experienced in conducting LCAs for a variety of products and components in manufacturing.